I’m always up for a good anime. At its best, Japanese animation features some of the finest storytelling in all of pop culture. Today’s show is for Part 1 of Season 1 for GARO, which FUNimation recently released on Blu-ray. The Animation is based on Keita Amemiya’s live action show. Amemiya is known for many Kamen Rider projects, so it’s interesting to see a Sentai-like animation. The similarities with Kamen Rider or Ultraman end however after the theme song plays. Unlike its live action counterpart, The Animation takes place many years into the past, basically in medieval times. There’s no phones, cars, or even pistols. The setting is definitely an engaging backdrop throughout the 12 episodes. GARO features a lot of good things, including a captivating plot, excellent fights, and some great characters. There are some aspects holding it back however, which stops it from being an all-star anime like Madoka or the first season of Psycho-Pass.
The following description comes from FUNimation:
The King’s close advisor implemented a large-scale witch-hunt. The tragic victims of this hunt were not witches, however, but Makai Knights and Makai Priests. One Makai Priestess gave birth to a child while being burned at the stake. That child carried the bloodlines of the Golden Knight. Although he was saved by his father, a Makai Knight himself, the newborn, León Luís, suffered greatly from the unjust death of his mother. And so he vowed to learn the ways of a Makai Knight from his father, Germán Luís, and use his training to seek revenge. During his battles against the demons known as “Horrors,” León must gradually approach reality and accept the truth.
Meanwhile, the powerful former adviser to the King, Mendoza, banished Prince Alfonso and his mother while the king was bedridden. Eager to reclaim his kingdom and save his people, Alfonso embarks on a quest to find the legendary Knight – but destiny holds a twist of fate in store for him.
Together, León and Alfonso begin long and difficult journey filled with many hardships.
Something I’ve noticed about a lot of great anime is that they don’t take a lot of time with explaining what’s happening at first, rather showing it. In Episode One we’re thrown in an unfamiliar world. The first haunting scene of the burning of a so-called witch grabs the viewer’s attention. Swiftly, but not too fast, does the story tell and show the viewer what’s going on after that. The pace never drags on. Rather, the story just about perfectly gives enough exposition and detail each episode. By the time Episode 4 rolls around the viewer knows who the characters are, their mission, and the land they’re in. The characters themselves range from great to mediocre.
The focus is mainly on Leon until Alfonso enters the picture. It’s understandable with the former’s past and never knowing his mother that Leon would be more on the brooding side. The show gradually shows that he has a caring heart, such as helping the child in the incredible Episode 4. He never takes the emo persona to the extreme (besides the last episode of this box set) unless he is with his father, German. The latter had an excellent intro, introducing the viewer to the Makai Knights. After that is when the writing drops the ball with him. To best describe this, it’s important to pluck out a single episode which mainly focuses on him running around in the nude. This was unbearable and I failed to see the humor. It’s understandable then that Leon would often talk against German, punching him around. The two’s relationship throughout the show is supposed to be funny, but ends up being more annoying to watch than anything. It’s a shame because when they do work together it’s quite engaging and fun. A great example is in Episode 4, where they’re basically a buddy cop duo. Beyond that however, the writing made a mistake with implementing this unwanted comedy. I’m not against good humor, but this show didn’t have that and just about every so-called funny scene was filler.
As stated in the description, the show is divided into two plot points which eventually intersect. One is Leon and German looking to take down Mendoza. The other is Alfonzo whom gets exiled from the kingdom. Alfonzo is the most likable character, and his arc was very well done. (Especially the sequences with his trainer, Rafael.) He and Leon made for a fun team because while they’re different, they both share a kind heart. Perhaps the show’s biggest supporting character is Ema, an alchemist. She was a blast to have around. How about the antagonist, Mendoza? While technically not bad, he wasn’t that engaging either. It doesn’t help of course that I recently finished Psycho-Pass and saw Makishima, one of the greatest written villains in anime. Mendoza in comparison seems like one of those sniveling sidekicks to a true leader. His right hand person, Octavia, wasn’t bad. Even with the flashback however, her motivations for following him weren’t that strong. The mysterious white-haired woman is technically an important character. She’s interesting, but her backstory with the Makai Knights is confusing. Hopefully it will be expanded on.
The best villain by far was Bernardo, the Black Knight. A Makai Knight whom betrayed the code of protecting humans is a fascinating plot point, and it’s a shame the show didn’t explore it more. German’s history with Bernardo was intriguing and the excellent flashbacks helped deepen it. The latter commands a great presence, right from his tension filled arrival in Episode 7. Then of course we can’t forget the ongoing villains in the background: the Horrors. These demonic creatures are expertly designed. While they’re often cannon fodder for the heroes, there are some which prove to be violent threats. The major plot point of humans giving into hate and getting consumed by these monsters was a scary, but engaging aspect as the viewer sees the dark side of trying to get help or cope with emotions through listening to evil.
As stated, episode progression is solid. However there’s at least one questionable installment. (Other than the one stated with German.) Episode 7 introduces the Black Knight. The first act of this installment is fantastic as we see Leon completely outclassed. Then out of nowhere the latter is given amnesia. This plot point was completely unneeded and ended up being filler. The characters he runs into never appear again after this episode, rendering just about all the happenings pointless. Combine that with the very next episode being the infamous German one, and the overall score will suffer a bit. Thankfully after that the plot returns full speed. The fights are excellent throughout the 12 episodes. They are accompanied by a stellar soundtrack, one of the best I’ve heard in awhile. Now, the last episode of this box set is not the last of the season. The thing however is that it’s perhaps the worst way to end the Blu-ray. The very last scene leaves the viewer confused, and disappointed. It even shows the preview for the next episode, but Part 2 isn’t available for purchase yet. I’m not sure what the Blu-ray could have done differently since Episode 12 is the end of the arc, but still it’s a pretty sad one to walk away from. (Especially since we don’t know when Part 2 will be available.)
Overall, is GARO: The Animation worth adding to your collection? There’s a lot to like for sure. The plot is engaging, and the animation is excellent. The fights are amazing to witness and the concept of supernatural Knights protecting people from demons is an excellent backdrop. The fan service-y moments thanks to the sleeping-around German was painful however. It’s disappointing to think how stellar the show could have been if it had done away with German’s personality and actually made him & Leon a likable pair to watch. Besides that and most of Episode 7 and 8 being complete wastes of times, the show is pretty compelling. Hopefully the company will release Part 2 in the near future.
A big thanks to FUNimation, GARO Season 1 – Part 1 is available now!